Surely it’s time to let technology solve an age-old problem on our railways?

Author: Tony O'Brien


For decades, the industry has attempted to raise public awareness about the inherent dangers and consequences of trespassing, in an attempt to not only save lives but also to mitigate delays and costs. However, rail trespass is still all too common and it is clear more action needs to be taken.

The return of one the world’s most famous steam locomotives, earlier this year, perfectly illustrated the high cost of rail trespass. The Flying Scotsman’s maiden journey following a ten year refurbishment, caused train enthusiasts to turn trespassers, in pursuit of the perfect photo.

Despite repeated warnings to the public as to the risks of trespassing on railways, large numbers of people stepping onto the tracks meant all East Coast Main Lines were temporarily halted, with British Transport Police called to the scene.

Nigel Harris, editor of Rail Magazine, was on the train at the time and very frankly described the incident as a “rampant trespass by mindless hordes”. Fortunately, the unscheduled stop did not cost any lives, however, the event did come at significant cost to taxpayer-funded Network Rail. Delays totalled more than eight hours and 59 services were affected. As a result, Network Rail was forced to pay approximately £60,000 in compensation. 


The high cost of trespass activity

The Flying Scotsman grinding to a halt is just a standalone example, but trespass incidents impact rail operators every day. When somebody is spotted trespassing, all trains in the vicinity are stopped to ensure safety, which has an obvious knock-on effect across the network. Trespassing, suicides and vandalism not only put passengers and staff at risk but cost the UK rail network millions every year, in fines and compensation. The last time this cost was publicly disclosed in 2012/13, it was put at £35m.

Trespass Warning System 

Panasonic as well as other companies are working with rail industry partners across Europe, to develop intelligent, connected technology solutions which reduce the risk and minimise the cost associated with trespass activity. 

Over the last six months we have been involved in a proof-of-concept for our unique Trespass Warning System, which allows the rail operator to mitigate losses associated with trespass incidents at known hot spots. 

We’ve implemented a system which incorporates our unique camera technology and scenario based rules to track people and analyse behaviour associated with trespass and vandalism. 

It determines whether there is a genuine potential incident arising, helping to reduce false positives, which can cause unnecessary delays too. 

At its core the system will help to significantly improve safety by keeping individuals away from the track, keeping trains running. It also means that staff members don’t always need to attend the platform, as an audible warning and false positive prevention system reduces this requirement, allowing them to concentrate on their customers instead. The system was last week named a finalist in the UK Rail Industry Award in the ‘passenger safety’ category.

It’s because of our relentless innovation that we can help rail network operators and train operating companies to solve the industry’s most challenging problems. 


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